Clockwork Pi GameShell Review: The DIY Game Boy With LEGO-Inspired Design

Evaluation:
8/10
?

1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
2 – Warm rubbish
3 – Highly imperfect design
4 – Some advantages, many disadvantages
5 – Acceptably flawed
6 – Enough to buy for sale
7 – Excellent, but not the best in its category
8 – Fantastic, with some footnotes
9 – Shut up and take my money
10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: $ 160

The GameShell is an excellent but expensive self-made portable gaming machine.Mechanical

STEM toys and games are all the rage, and video games are still popular. If you want to combine simple electronic components with retro games, GameShell allows you to create your own open source Game Boy.

This is what we like

Modular design easy to assemble
Good documentation
User-friendly software
Extensible hardware and connections

And what we do not do

High price for material power
Power and data cables could use better tags

Ok, it's a bit simplistic. the ClockworkPi GameShell is a modular system. By "construction", I mean assemble, because you only combine a few simple parts, that you can connect to each other and that you close the shell. Everything is included in the kit and already programmed, including the rechargeable battery and software loaded on a MicroSD card. So, if you're looking for something that challenges your DIY skills, that's not it: it's more like a LEGO kit that you can load with ROMs when you're done.

The fully assembled GameShell looks like a more advanced version of the original Game Boy.The fully assembled GameShell looks like a more advanced version of the original Game Boy. Michael Crider

But now that I'm typing that, "The LEGO kit you can load with ROMs" is pretty good. And that's it! This is especially true if you are looking for something for a child: younger children can prepare the kit with a little help from a parent, and children from the middle age can handle most things themselves, with maybe a little help. load new games in emulators included.

They do not do 'em like they did before (but you can)

The GameShell comes in a series of segmented boxes and coin trays, in the manner of an old car kit. Take out the contents of the different boxes and bags, remove the plastic from the trays and follow the assembly instructions provided. Once completed, you will get an object resembling an open source Game Boy of 1989. it.

The various elements of the GameShell, before assembly.The different pieces of GameShell, before assembly. Michael Crider

The construction process takes about an hour for an adult, although young children need a little more time. All the most delicate electronic components, such as the main motherboard, screen and keypad, are quickly locked into their own plastic modular protective shells so they can be assembled roughly without fear of damaging them. If you are helping a small child assemble this material, once the main modular parts are covered, you can probably let them do the rest at their own pace.

The modular design of the GameShell deserves special praise. By following the clear instructions, it is quite difficult to assemble these elements in a disastrous way: if you do not succeed in breaking the hard plastic in half, everything can be deconstructed and rebuilt as it should. This is a remarkable achievement in the world of DIY electronics kits (I will not talk about the number of keyboard PC boards that I managed to destroy with a sloppy solder). Thanks to this child-friendly design, anything that remains short of anger is probably reversible.

The modular design of the room (screen, tablet, motherboard, battery) allows a safe and easy assembly.The modular design of the parts (screen, tablet, motherboard, battery) allows a safe and easy assembly. Michael Crider

I especially like the two optional backs of the gadget: one smooth, in the manner of Nintendo, the other covered with LEGO compatible bricks, lest your allusions to construction toys be only 39, illustrative instead of literal. The base kit includes an optional upgrade on the back, five additional shoulder buttons that can be turned on with the included LEDs, which connect to the motherboard and come into place via the LEGO buttons.

This is a nice little addition if you want compatibility with more complex PC or PlayStation classic games, although the cable that needs to be plugged into the motherboard means it's probably a bit brittle for travel.

Just enough power for the classics

Once you have assembled and secured the outer plastic shell with the two easy-to-remove circular snaps, you get a Game Boy style portable game gadget with a backlit LCD display, a familiar touch layout and a preprogrammed user interface. The electronic components inside work on a Cortex A7 processor with 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage via the MicroSD card. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HDMI output via a mini-port are included and the battery is charged via a MicroUSB direct connection.

Yes, it works Doom!Yes, it works Doom! Michael Crider

Although the GameShell is stalling its "piratable" hardware and programmability, novices like me are encouraged to let go if we choose to ignore it and treat it as an emulation machine.

RetroArch and some other emulators are integrated right from the start, and ROM files can quickly be dropped directly to the storage drive via USB or the built-in Wi-Fi file server. I was able to deposit my trusty Pokemon Crystal game file without any problem.

The operating system pre-installed on the MicroSD card is surprisingly flexible.The operating system pre-installed on the MicroSD card is surprisingly flexible. Michael Crider

The hardware is powerful enough to do everything up to the Super Nintendo and Genesis era, with perhaps some slightly powerful PlayStation games on occasion. (The PlayStation ROM will heat this thing in your hand, however: there is no fan or even heat sink.) If you want to avoid legal gray areas or hacking, you can load the Linux software or play versions Cave Story and DOOM sources.

Technically unlimited potential

But what if you're incredibly talented with electronics and want to make GameShell more than a kid's toy? You can do this, assuming you can work with the custom CPI motherboard. In terms of hardware, the modular hardware is quite cluttered in the Game Boy shell, but some cable access ports allow you to add hardware to the outside and stick it to the LEGO amounts if you're feeling creative .

One of the rear panels includes LEGO compatible crampons, a very neat touch.One of the rear panels includes LEGO compatible crampons, a very neat touch. Michael Crider

Not customizable enough? If you have access to a 3D printer, you can create your own shell or external parts, with STL files available for five dollars. This allows you to design theoretically unlimited additional hardware if you have the skills and the time.

In practical terms, I think very few people will really do it. Anyone with this kind of technical skill (and I'm not in this group) does not need super-safe modular plastic parts or preinstalled software to create their own portable console. They are probably more than happy to start with a project like the PiGRRLor simply from scratch.

The hardware can be expanded with external hardware, such as this button and this included LED bar.The hardware can be expanded with external hardware, such as this button and this included LED bar. Michael Crider

But I appreciate that real expansion is a real possibility with the GameShell: it will allow children who have made their weapons on this retro-style material to use it as a starting point for more elaborate projects.

Not really profitable

At $ 200 for the full kit, currently $ 160 on promotion and $ 140 only if you're a student, the GameShell is not cheap, no matter how you cut it. Those just looking for a portable retro console have more affordable options with more power and less elbow grease needed to get started. But if the GameShell is not cheap, the excellent design work can fill the gaps.

GameShell, running a Game Boy emulator, with the additional button bar in place.GameShell, running a Game Boy emulator, with the additional button bar in place. Michael Crider

With a complete modular design, excellent instructions and documentation, as well as a surprisingly user-friendly software, the entire software provides an excellent introduction to the world of DIY electronics.

The end result will not turn heads with the Switch and Nintendo 3DS currently on the market, not to mention the games for mobile phones. But that's not the goal. He is more than capable of doing what he is intended for, and the extra polishing added to the product makes him commendable in every respect.

The GameShell is a fun distraction for any retro-obsessed adult gamer and a fantastic electronic beginner project for kids. Both will appreciate the result of their efforts, and this is just a stepping stone to a larger world of hardware and software customization. It's an easy recommendation on my part.

This is what we like

Modular design easy to assemble
Good documentation
User-friendly software
Extensible hardware and connections

And what we do not do

High price for material power
Power and data cables could use better tags

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